With NFL preseason action underway, the time has come for bettors and books alike to look ahead at the eventual conference championships.
Only one team from the AFC can play their way to Super Bowl 52, but before securing a spot in the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet, first they must claim the conference crown. And that’s no easy feat, requiring survival through a brutal 16-game regular season, a wild-card berth or division title to make the postseason, and two or three hard-fought playoff victories to pull it off.
According to the latest odds posted by the online sportsbook Bovada, the 2017 AFC conference title race is a one-horse affair – as the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are placed far ahead of the pack with (+175) odds. That gives bettors backing Brady and Belichick to make a historic eighth Super Bowl run less than 2 to 1 on their money.
The Patriots would’ve likely been overwhelming favorites as it is, but following a preseason which saw several potential challengers bitten by the injury bug, their juggernaut status has only been inflated.
An AFC East upstart was devastated by the dreaded starting quarterback injury, when the Miami Dolphins lost Ryan Tannehill to a non-contact knee injury – his second season-ender in less than a year. And while emergency replacement Jay Cutler’s familiarity with head coach Adam Gase’s offense will be useful, Bovada dropped the Dolphins from (+2500) opening odds in July to (+4000) entering the regular season.
The Indianapolis Colts haven’t lost their quarterback quite yet, but Andrew Luck has extended rehab on his injured throwing shoulder much longer than had been anticipated. His status for Week 1 remains murky, leading the Colts to drop from (+1400) to (+1800).
Joe Flacco, the leader of a Baltimore Ravens team that has been the only consistent rival to Patriots playoff runs, finds himself nursing a back injury. Accordingly, the Ravens are ranked eighth among the pack of contenders to dethrone New England at (+2000).
As for the teams that seem to have a shot, at least according to the books, the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers are both offering (+600) – making them the only other two teams better than 12 to 1 against.
Oakland looked like a powerhouse in the making last season, only to see their playoff hopes derailed by a late-season injury to quarterback Derek Carr. With the emerging star signal-caller back in the fold and fully returned to form, the Raiders have reclaimed their swagger heading into 2017.
Pittsburgh had a chance to win the AFC back in January, but the Steelers simply couldn’t compete with the Patriots during a 36-17 romp in the title game. The roster returns largely intact, putting Pittsburgh in pole position for yet another AFC Championship Game appearance.
A trio of perennial playoff teams to consider as potential dark horses can be had at (+1200), as the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and Houston Texans all occupy the same rung on the odds ladder.
The Broncos and Texans have quarterback questions to settle, with second-year starter Paxton Lynch and rookie Deshaun Watson at the helm, respectively. And the Chiefs are forced to ask if check-down artist Alex Smith has already reached the peak of his potential, following an embarrassing 18-16 defeat to the Steelers, who used six field goals to surpass Kansas City’s offensive output.
All told, the AFC appears to be stratified according to the usual structure – with the Patriots reigning supreme, and everyone else simply hoping for an upset opportunity.
Check the table below for every AFC team’s current odds of representing the conference in Super Bowl 52:
|Team||AFC Title Odds on 8/15|
|New England Patriots||+175|
|Kansas City Chiefs||+1200|
|Los Angeles Chargers||+2000|
|New York Jets||+10000|